Editing for Liberty #12: Electrical Bill

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. I have to pay the electrical bill.
  2. Each of these policies came out of the idea that society could and should be engineered from the top-down to give rise to efficiency, community, and prosperity.
  3. The correspondence between three factors of production . . . as taught by the classical economists is untenable.

Read on for the solutions!

Google Plebiscite

Let’s take a moment for a copyediting tip.

Do you ever see a term in a sentence that is used in a way that seems almost right, but you’re not quite sure, and the dictionary isn’t helping? I was recently editing an article by an ESL author, and he used the term electrical bill, as in sentence #1, above. I knew what he meant, but it didn’t sound quite right. Would it be better to use electric bill or power bill? I asked BK about it and he reminded me for the umpteenth time that Google can be helpful in such situations.

Put each term in quotation marks in a Google search. (The quotation marks are all-important to this type of search.) Then see how many hits you get for each usage.

And here are the results for this particular search:

“electric bill”: 1,110,000

“electrical bill”: 64,500 (Did you mean: “electric bill”)

“power bill”: 452,000

“electricity bill”: 661,000

I went with electric bill for the article.

Top Down vs. Top-down

A top-down organization is organized from the top down. You only hyphenate top-down when it is used as an adjective. Otherwise, it’s two separate words. Thus, sentence #2 should be

Each of these policies came out of the idea that society could and should be engineered from the top down to give rise to efficiency, community, and prosperity.

Where Our Style Departs from Chicago: Reflow

It may be hard to tell what’s wrong with sentence #3 because it is, in fact, in Chicago style. However, this is one of the places where we depart from Chicago. It should read

The correspondence between three factors of productionas taught by the classical economists is untenable.

The ellipses should be one character.

We know that Chicago wants ellipses to be periods and spaces, but that’s really a typesetting question, not a style question, so Chicago is overstepping; their recommendation doesn’t work on the web, where “reflow” (how words wrap in a changing browser window) dictates some different decisions. An ellipsis made up of periods and spaces could get broken up across two lines depending on what size the window is, which would look very awkward.
This problem applies to ebooks just as well as webpages. So, to make sure you’re compatible with all formats, we recommend creating an ellipsis as just one character rather than six or seven.

Name That Reference

Just for Fun

(Or Why Commas Are Important When You Are Talking About Microbes)

I follow Qikipedia on Twitter, and this tweet made me long for commas.

There are around 1000000000000000000000000000000 microbes in the oceans, weighing, together, as much as 240 billion elephants.

Yes, the numeral is huge, but wouldn’t it have been easier to parse if they had presented it as

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000?


Is there something you’d like to contribute or see covered in Editing for Liberty? Post a comment! Cartoons, quips, and contributions to “Spot the Error” and “Name That Reference” are especially welcome.

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